Blame, Praise, Shrug: Global Media Covers U.S. Torture

Condemnation of U.S. torture dominated global media, sometimes accompanied by admiration for the political culture that produced the report on the CIA’s past treatment of terrorism suspects.

Reaction to the report released on Dec. 9 by Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee was plastered across the front pages of the world’s newspapers -- or, in some cases, relegated to the middle sections by bigger local stories. The following is a roundup of some of the coverage from outside the U.S.:

* China

Official media in the main geopolitical rival to the U.S. found that there were lessons to be learned from the scandal -- not necessarily the same ones that American analysts were drawing.

While the Senate report reveals “wicked acts” and “gross violations of human rights by the CIA,” the state-run Global Times said in an unsigned editorial, “in many developing countries including China, there has even been applause for U.S. democracy after the release of these reports. They have paid attention to the courage of the U.S. rather than the crime of prisoner abuse.”

“It’s a result of U.S. soft power,” the paper concluded. “Positioned at the center of the global order, the U.S. has incomparable abilities in controlling resources and discourse power.”

* U.K.

“Torture: The Stain on America” was the headline in the Guardian newspaper, which devoted four pages to the story, and ran rolling coverage through the day on its website. “The U.S. owns up to torture, finally” asked its political columnist, Michael White. “But who else does?”

* France

French papers didn’t appear yesterday because of a strike by printers and distributors. Le Monde and Le Figaro, the two leading national dailies, took opposite approaches on their websites.

Le Monde led with the story, saying the CIA “lied on the gravity of the cruelties inflicted” and pointing out that the agency still failed to “achieve any primordial information to fight against terrorism.” The center-right Le Figaro relegated the story to page 7 in its online mock-up, behind stories about the government’s plans to deregulate protected professions.

* Spain

The torture report was the lead story in El Pais, Spain’s top daily, which also ran an editorial arguing that its publication gives President Barack Obama an opportunity to meet a so-far unfulfilled campaign promise by closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

In much of the media, though, the story was eclipsed by reports of the 19 1/2-year prison term prosecutors are demanding for the king’s brother-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, on corruption charges.

* Austria

“Jihadis Stealing Our Children” was the front-page story in Austria’s biggest-selling newspaper, the tabloid Kronen Zeitung. It focused on Islamic State’s “Hollywood-style propaganda machine” luring Europeans from their families, and had nothing to do with the Senate report, which appeared on page 5 of the paper.

* Germany

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which ran the headline “Indictment Against the CIA,” and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt all carried the torture story on their front pages. Bild, a right-leaning tabloid, had a page-2 commentary from Ernst Elitz praising Obama for releasing the report. “Obama’s acknowledgment of guilt is a sign of national greatness,” Elitz argued. “We will condemn the torturers, but a nation that calls out these crimes earns great respect.”

* Poland

Poland was a close ally in the “war on terror” declared by the U.S. government after the Sept. 11 attacks, and some of the concerns highlighted in media coverage were local ones.

“The CIA Tortured and Lied About It” was the banner headline in Poland’s biggest newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, which published extracts including U.S. documents that described how Polish officials were outraged when news of alleged secret prisons in the country was leaked. TVN24 grilled ex-President Kwasniewski on the issue.

“There were no secret prisons, there was a secret facility,” Kwasniewski said when asked whether he’d lied about the existence of foreign prisons on Polish territory.

Rzeczpospolita newspaper called the Senate report “dynamite” and wondered in its headline whether the U.S. was committing “diplomatic suicide.”

* Russia

The Polish connection also was featured in coverage of the scandal by state media in Russia, currently at loggerheads with the U.S. over sanctions. RT, the Kremlin-funded English-language news channel, had a leading story on a report that the U.S. paid Poland to host secret prisons.

“Shocking honesty” was how the Vesti network headlined its story on the CIA report.

* Syria

“The Senate Uncovers the CIA’s Lies,” was the headline in Syria’s al-Baath newspaper, which said the report showed how the U.S. had “resorted to violent and ineffective measures.”

* Iran

Initial coverage in the Islamic Republic, where the U.S. is called “the Great Satan,” was restrained. Press TV cited a Guantanamo Bay detainee, Moazzam Begg, as saying that the brutal methods used by U.S. security forces helped engender Islamic State, the jihadist group that the U.S. and Iran are both currently fighting.

* Latin America

Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo dedicated the first page of its international section to the CIA story, with a time line of the investigation and its findings and a sidebar on the detention of terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah.

In Mexico, the Senate report was the top story for La Jornada newspaper, with a headline reference to “brutal CIA torture.”

The Argentine newspaper La Nacion covered the story on its first two pages. In an editorial comment, it said the Senate report reflects “the hypocrisy most governments fall into when they talk about human rights.”

In Venezuela, usually among the continent’s most vocal critics of U.S. policy on the continent, newspapers El Nacional Ultimas Noticias and Ciudad CCS didn’t give the story front-page treatment.

* Canada

Canadian cartoonists went to work on the Senate report. In the Globe and Mail, a man in an Uncle Sam costume is shown walking away from a building labeled “Enhanced Interrogation Unit.” He’s carrying a sign that says “Moral High Ground.” The paper’s editorial panned the CIA techniques with the headline: “We thought it was bad. It was worse.”

The National Post ran a cartoon showing the director of the CIA reading the report at his desk, with a speech bubble that reads: “Aiee! No! Stop! Stop! I can’t take it...”

* North Korea

Official media in North Korea, designated part of an “axis of evil” by President George W. Bush, attacked the U.S. for hypocrisy.

While the U.S. carries out “brutal tortures and other atrocities” against detainees, it also imposes “pressure, sanctions and military blackmail against other nations under the pretext of the ‘human rights issue,’ only to attain its ulterior political purposes,” the agency quoted Dr. Jong Song Su of Kim Il Sung University as saying.

— With assistance by Ben Holland

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